"The sea pirates were white. The people who were already on the continent when the pirates arrived were copper-colored. When slavery was introduced onto the continent, the slaves were black.
Color was everything.
Here is how the pirates were able to take whatever they wanted from anybody else: they had the best boats in the world and they were much meaner than anybody else, and they had gunpowder, which was a mixture of potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulphur. They touched this seemingly listless powder with fire, and it turned violently into gas. This gas blew projectiles out of metal tubes at terrific velocities. The projectiles cut through meat and bone very easily, so the pirates could wreck the wiring or the bellows or the plumbing of a human being, even when he was far away.
The chief weapon of the sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was much too late, how heartless and greedy they were."
- Excerpt from Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Back in the eighties I often played computer games on the old ZX Spectrum with my school friends, games of a level of sophistication (given the memory capacity of 48K) that would almost certainly elicit guffaws of derision from teenagers now. Many of the games were variations on the classic Invaders theme, namely blowing up aliens in some kind of war.
This pleasant reminiscence was brought on by something rather more sinister. In an article in today's Guardian by Rory Carroll some light was shed on the thoughts and feelings of so-called 'drone operators', pilots who, with joysticks, headsets and computer screens, have become minions of the only man in the world who claims with his kill list a legitimate, God-like power over life and death, Barack Obama.
Some of their words:
"There's not a lot of time for emotion here. There's a war going on and we have a job to do," says Weaver, a veteran F15 fighter pilot.
"I've flown manned aircraft and believe me this, in terms of combat, is more up close and personal."
'Up close and personal'. 'There's a war on'. 'We have a job to do'. Does any of that sound familiar to you? To me it sounds like something some bloodthirsty fool in a Hollywood war/action movie would say.
"It wasn't the sexy thing to be seated in a ground control station. But we're changing a lot of minds," says Captain Chad, 29, another instructor. "People are seeing our capabilities and what we're doing."
A certain defensiveness mingles with the pride. Asked about accusations that drone strikes are extrajudicial executions, or assassinations, Weaver stiffens. "That's for the politicians to consider. We follow the orders of our civilian leaders."
All bristle at any suggestion that waging war by remote control requires less bravery than traditional combat.
"There are different types of courage," says Jon, a lieutenant colonel, standing in an officers' bar adorned with a replica medieval suit of armour, a framed tomahawk and oil paintings of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. "Ours requires moral courage. We take moral and legal risks. If I pull the trigger and I'm wrong I have to live with the consequences."
First, I reject any moral argument about war as that implies that it can be noble. There is no nobility in war. It is invariably waged either for territory, resources or control/hegemony, and justified with lies; none of these things can be called noble.
Indeed, war is closer to theft, and metaphorically to rape. The idea that it is 'cowardly' not to look your enemy in the eye as you kill him is bogus. The same argument could be applied to using bows and arrows instead of swords - advancements in military technology will always be taken advantage of - and in the only kind of war that I would personally fight in - one of self-defense/survival, I would most certainly use every strategic advantage I could to maximize the chances of victory.
Note also the cognitive dissonance in the three last quoted paragraphs: on one hand they disavow responsibility because 'it's for the politicians to consider' and 'we follow the orders of our civilian leaders' and on the other we have 'we take moral and legal risks' and 'if I pull the trigger and I'm wrong I have to live with the consequences'.
This is known as the Nuremberg Defense, namely the idea that soldiers are not responsible for their actions because they were just obeying orders. At the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-6, this defense was rejected as a means of lower-ranking soldiers escaping culpability, although it could lead to reduced punishments in some cases.
Two things need to be pointed out to these pilots. First, the fact that highly imperfect intelligence and unreliable informants can lead to the tragic loss of innocent life, as indeed it has done on a large scale. To take but one example of many, read the first four paragraphs of this article (which I strongly recommend you read in full) by Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve:
Last October I was at a jirga in Islamabad where 80 people from Waziristan had assembled to talk about the US Predator drones that buzz around overhead, periodically delivering death by Hellfire missile. A jirga is the traditional forum for discussing and resolving disputes, part parliament, part court of law. The turbaned tribal elders were joined by their young sons on a rare foray out of their region to meet outsiders and discuss the killing. The isolation of the Waziris is almost total – no western journalist has been to Miranshah for several years.
At our meeting I spoke as the representative westerner. I reported the CIA claim that not one single innocent civilian had been killed in over a year. I did not need to understand Pashtu to translate the snorts of derision when this claim was translated.
During the day I shook the hand of a 16-year-old kid from Waziristan named Tariq Aziz. One of his cousins had died in a missile strike, and he wanted to know what he could do to bring the truth to the west. At the Reprieve charity, we have a transparency project: importing cameras to the region to try to export the truth back out. Tariq wanted to take part, but I thought him too young.
Then, three days later, the CIA announced that it had eliminated "four militants". In truth there were only two victims: Tariq had been driving his 12-year-old cousin to their aunt's house when the Hellfire missile killed them both. This came just 24 hours after the CIA boasted of eliminating six other "militants" – actually, four chromite workers driving home from work. In both cases a local informant apparently tagged the car with a GPS monitor and lied to earn his fee.
Moral courage indeed.
The second thing these pilots need to hear is the tale of Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer in the US armed forces to refuse to deploy to Iraq on the grounds that he believed the war to be illegal and therefore did not wish to make himself party to a war crime.
That is moral courage.
Watada was brought before a court-martial, which ended in a mistrial, and he was discharged. Watada had the nobility and courage to stand up for his beliefs and listen to his conscience in full knowledge as an officer of the wider damaging implications of his decision with regard to chain of command, discipline and morale.
Perhaps these pilots have forgotten that there is little thing called due process, a fundamental tenet of law and justice: a person is suspected of a crime, brought before an open and fair court at the earliest opportunity, found guilty or not guilty after examination of all testimony and evidence, and sentenced in a manner consistent with legal precedent. The moment we dispense with these notions of justice is the same moment that we lose the right to name ourselves a civilized people.
But it was this quote from one of the pilots that chilled me to the bone:
"On the drive home I would decompress. Listen to music, take a deep breath, compartmentalise so I could make the transition to husband, father, family man."
As one Guardian reader (Lostindenmark) commented below the line, I would like to ask this individual: "And what do you turn into when you travel in the other direction?" Perhaps he turns into something like this piece of work.
Drones are the future of warfare for NATO and the major powers. Becoming a ground soldier in a large army would be an unwise career move as any large force could easily be bombed into the next world en masse without a single casualty suffered now that NATO powers already have literally thousands of these flying robots. Such an uneven balance in favor of NATO and the US will inevitably lead to developments by its opponents (China, Russia etc.) of other weapons to redress the balance, thereby making the world an infinitely more dangerous place.
The sociopaths who control the key strategic arms of global society have to be removed. We can no longer afford to simply talk about it. A future of endlessly escalating war beckons unless we act. As someone who has researched deeply the concept of direct democracy as well its alternatives, I know all too well that the only way to remove power from these corrupt regimes is through a grassroots movement towards direct democracy as described in my free book. The alternative, with regard to drone technology, is not only endless war and the killing of innocents, but also surveillance drones flitting overhead watching the moves of everyone below them 24/7. Is this the kind of society you want for you and your kids? Me neither.
Orwell is now spinning faster than Jenny. Stop thinking and talking, and act now.
'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)